Emmy Circuit: Who Will Stand Out for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series?


Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series, where we analyze and predict all your favorite TV series and their chances with the Television Academy (at least at this time of publishing).  The series examines the shows and performances about their awards potential, most notably the Emmy Awards. Emmy nomination voting opens June 10 and closes on June 24.  The official Emmy nominations will be announced on Tuesday, July 16 while the ceremony airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22. All Emmy pieces run with the following schedule: Mondays (Dramas), Tuesdays (Network Spotlight), Wednesdays (Comedies), Thursdays (Network Spotlight), Fridays (Limited Series, Variety Series, Below-the Lines).

Opening Statements

There is a slew of award-worthy, star-making (or star-reaffirming) comedy series on television with compelling female leads. However, deserving performances may, sadly, be left out from from Emmy consideration. In the past, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has taken home the top prize for “Veep,” which recently aired its series finale. Louis-Dreyfus took home Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series from 2012 through 2018. One of television’s top accolades went to Rachel Brosnahan for her leading role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” when “Veep” was ineligible last year. For TV fans and critics, a question to keep in mind is, “Will Louis-Dreyfus come out on top for the series’ final season, or will Brosnahan continue her reign?” Indeed, “Maisel’s” second season was considered strong, but thus far “Veep” has not faltered in its critical and commercial success.

Perhaps such a framework is limiting. After-all, there are several excellent contenders, from Phoebe Waller-Bridge of “Fleabag” fame, to Christina Applegate in the Netflix newcomer “Dead to Me.” Other beloved shows have come to a close this year as well, which could work in Ellie Kemper’s favor on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” or “Jane the Virgin”’s Gina Rodriguez, or even the Ilana Glazer/Abbi Jacobson dyad on “Broad City.” And we’d be remiss to forget “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” powerhouse Rachel Bloom. Here’s the breakdown:

Exit Strategy

Beloved, and Emmy award-winning, comedienne Louis-Dreyfus is a key player here. The sardonic and eerily prescient “Veep” has been a mainstay on the small screen for nearly a decade now, and Louis-Dreyfus is illuminating as the lead. But as mentioned above, shows like “Broad City,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (which will grace viewers with an interactive special next year), “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and “Jane the Virgin” also aired their series finales this year, and could give the Louis-Dreyfus/Brosnahan duo some competition. Ellie Kemper of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” in particular, was previously nominated for an Emmy in 2017. Perhaps the nomination could help garner attention for her Emmy campaign. Although, this seems somewhat unlikely considering the fact that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” isn’t really ending. Viewers still have the interactive special to look forward to. Of the shows that are ending this year, “Veep” and Maisel seem to be the most likely contenders for this category, especially since they are safer, more “prestige” shows.

Network Contenders

Tracee Ellis Ross is a three-time Emmy nominee for her work on ABC’s “Black-ish.” Although the show’s ratings have dropped this season, Ross’ exemplary performance could still put her in contention for recognition. Allison Janney’s work on CBS’ “Mom,” which has earned her two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, could put her in the running for an Emmy, as well. Although it might be difficult for the sitcom to compete with “prestige” shows like “Veep,” “Russian Doll,” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” In addition, Kristen Bell has consistently given fans a strong performance, though enthusiasm for NBC’s “The Good Place” has waned in season three. This could make a nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series less likely than in the past.

“Freshman Fire”

“Dead to Me,” created by Liz Feldman

“Dead to Me,” the Netflix comedy-drama starring Christina Applegate and Lisa Cardellini, has received rave reviews so far – in no small part due to its lead Applegate. A dark comedy focusing on an unlikely friendship in a grief support group, the series could place Applegate in serious contention. If she wins, the award would mark her second Primetime Emmy, but her first win for a lead actress in a comedy.

Natasha Lyonne has had a stand-out year. She stars in the critically-acclaimed “Russian Doll,” a dark comedy with an expert twist of “Groundhog Day”. Although the writing on the show is stellar – penned by an all female writers’ room – it is the performance of Emmy nominated Lyonne (who starred in and directed for “Orange is the New Black”) that makes the series an undeniable cultural sensation.

In a perfect world, Hulu’s “Shrill,” starring Aidy Bryant, and “Pen15,” starring and created by Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, would be strong contenders for this year, but may fall short due to the extreme competition. Particularly since the Emmys tend to lean for the comedy-drama for this category. 

Cable Contenders

lily tomlin

In addition to previously discussed shows like HBO’s Veep,” Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Netflix’s “Dead to Me” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” there are a few anomalies. “Grace and Frankie,” which aired its fifth season, has proven to be a success, earning nominations for co-star Lily Tomlin every year since it premiered in 2015. Perhaps this year Jane Fonda’s entrepreneurial-spirited “Grace” could be nominated, too. Amazon Studio’s “Forever,” starring Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, has begun to gain some traction. Rudolph’s subdued yet dynamic performance could merit her another Emmy nomination. She’s previously been nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress for “Saturday Night Live” and “The Good Place.”

Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator and star of “Fleabag,” is another strong contender for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The series won a BAFTA for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Program. Could that success translate across the pond? With the show’s strong critical resonance, perhaps. Issa Rae, creator and star of HBO’s “Insecure,” has previously been nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for season one. The sophomore season earned a strong critical reception, which should, hopefully, earn Rae serious consideration again this year.

Current Outstanding Lead Actress in A (Comedy) Series Predictions

  1. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Veep” (HBO)
  2. Natasha Lyonne, “Russian Doll” (Netflix)
  3. Rachel Brosnahan, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
  4. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, “Fleabag” (Amazon/BBC Three)
  5. Maya Rudolph, “Forever” (Amazon)
  6. Lily Tomlin, “Grace and Frankie” (Netflix)

What Are Your Predictions? Let Us Know in the Comments Below!